Most of us these days invest at least a minimum of three hours a week in some form of exercise—be it walking on a treadmill or outdoors, gymming or yoga. If you are taking precious time out from your schedule for some activity, make sure you keep these vital pointers in mind.
Why warm up
Starting a workout without a warm up is like making a child run before he learns to walk. Warming up helps increase the body temperature slightly and makes muscles more pliable and ready for exercise. This can be easily done by a light aerobic activity like walking, cycling/jogging or by individually warming up each muscle [by doing shoulder, neck rotations, side bends, knee lifts] or just marching for a few minutes or stretching on the spot. The idea is to gradually elevate the body temperature.
Why cool down
Cooling down helps decrease the blood flow to the worked out muscles and brings your body temperature as well as your heart rate back to normal after exercise.
When you exercise a particular muscle, the blood flow to that muscle increases. If you stop the activity abruptly, the blood collects at the nerve endings.
To prevent this, it is necessary to continue lower level activities like stretches till body temperature returns to near-normal.
By avoiding a warm up before your workout and skipping the cool down after a workout, sets you up for injuries.
Workouts should energise you
If you feel sapped of energy or find yourself incapable of doing any other activity after your workout, chances are that you have taken on too much. Your journey to fitness is not a race and your body can take only a limited effort at a time. Running on the treadmill at the fastest speed or lifting the heaviest weight is not really the correct measure of your progress.
However, feeling less breathless while climbing stairs and, being alert and energetic even after a full day work is the correct measure.
Soreness is expected
Muscle soreness often happens within 24 – 48 hrs after your workout, and lasts only for 24 – 48 hrs. It is usually a sort of a mild discomfort. You can deal with it by doing a good warm-up [walking on the treadmill or cycling for 15 – 20 minutes] followed by stretches and you will soon find it gone. If soreness persists after stretching, avoid working the sore muscles on that day.
To relieve soreness after a workout, a warm water bath works quite well. Alternatively, applying a hot water bottle is also helpful. While a little bit of soreness—when you start a new workout routine or take up your exercises after a break—is common, you have to learn to identify the difference between muscle soreness and pain.
Remember, if soreness lasts for more than 72 hours, it’s because you have overdone your exercise. In that case you need to consult a doctor.
The comfortable trap
While doing too much harms you, doing too little is not going to help either. Your body adapts to a workout routine within 4 – 6 weeks.If you keep doing the same exercises or if the exercise is now ‘comfortable’ and there has been no change in your weight/appearance/measurements or fat percentage, then you are training in your comfort zone.
Get out of that zone and challenge your body by changing your entire routine or the activity. For instance, if swim for sometime instead of walking.
Breathing is very important
Most new exercisers are so busy concentrating on learning techniques, especially when weight training, that they forget to breathe. Holding your breath during your workout may make you feel dizzy by cutting off the oxygen supply to the brain. Make sure you make a concentrated effort to breathe, if you tend to hold your breath. Another good way is to count your repetitions aloud so you automatically breathe right.
Heal faster with RICE
There is a 4-point mantra for any sports- or fitness-related injury. The mantra is acronymised as R.I.C.E—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
Rest: Resting is important to protect the injured muscle, tendon, ligament or other tissue from further injury. Also, the body needs energy to heal more effectively and faster.
Ice: Icing provides immediate relief from pain. It also restricts blood flow to the injured part, thus limiting the swelling. Apply ice bags or cold packs only for 15 – 20 minutes at a time with a gap of 20 minutes in between to avoid skin damage.
Compression: Compression limits swelling and this encourages healing. If you are applying ice on the injured area, apply it with slight pressure and keep the pressure on for a few minutes. If it is a sprain, tying a sprain bandage is a good idea. However, make sure you ask a professional to do it for you.
Elevation: Elevating an injury reduces swelling. It’s most effective when the injured area is raised above the level of the heart. For example,if you injure an ankle, try lying onyour bed with your foot propped on one or two pillows and allow gravity to do its work. Elevation will prevent any fluid from accumulating in the injured area and that in turn will speed up recovery.
If you follow R.I.C.E for a day or two, many sprains, strains or other injuries will begin to heal. But if your pain or swelling does not decrease even after 48 hours, it is essential that you see your physician or a physiotherapist or an orthopaedic, depending upon the severity of your symptoms.